For as long as I can remember, I’ve gotten carsick.  Quickly and very.  I may have mentioned the week-long safari Matt and I went on the summer after we met?  By lunch on the first day I was throwing up behind the Jeep.  I spent a week nauseous and vomiting all over Kenya.  It was very romantic.  I’m lucky he stuck around, frankly.

I very rarely get seasick, and I am always fine on airplanes and trains.  But, oh, cars.  My nausea is immediate and often powerful.  I’ve been wondering what this carsickness is about, and what it can teach me.

Is it another manifestation of my need for control?  Because if I am driving I’m fine.  It’s true that I’m an irritating passenger, with opinions about how and where and when to drive (“that’s a lot of wiper,” said under my breath when I deem Matt as having too aggressively paced the windshield wipers for a drizzle, is one of the comments I’m roundly mocked for).  So maybe it’s about not being in control, and that literally making me sick.  I’m not sure, though.

Maybe it’s connected to how I have always disliked rollercoasters.  The truth is that I have slowly been getting over my fear of rollercoasters, mostly because I’ve started riding them with Grace and Whit.  Of course we’re talking about the rollercoasters at Story Lane, or other pretty tame rides.  I’m still not comfortable on any kind of real rollercoaster.

A few years ago, when we were at Disney with the children, Matt goaded me into going on Rockin’ Roller Coaster with him at Hollywood Studios.  I was so tired of being mocked that I agreed to try it.  We got into the car, me fighting a wave of panic, and I asked why we had a harness over our shoulders.  Oh, no reason, he said dismissively.

That ride was among the most terrifying few minutes of my life.  As the ride came to a screeching finish, Matt looked at me and burst out laughing because, as he said between guffaws, I was literally green.

Perhaps, as I noted a couple of years ago, the swooping up-and-down movement along the tracks is simply too close to my own internal topography, which is already a kind of roller coaster.  I climb to outrageous joy and plummet to tearful heartache every single day.  Hell, I do that every hour.  Just inside my own head and heart.  Maybe it’s too overwhelming to also have my body do this.

Or maybe my propensity to get carsick is simply the universe pushing me to be still.  The surest way to get sick, for me, is to distract myself.  If I read, if I look at my iPhone, if I turn around and talk to the kids in the back seat, even if I engage too much with the radio: boom.  But my only chance at not being nauseous is to sit still, look out the window, and pay attention to what’s outside.

I’m not sure what the root cause of my carsickness is.  Maybe it’s just the way my inner ear is constructed.  Or maybe it’s some mysterious amalgam of all of these factors, whose precise components can’t be discerned.  I don’t know.  But I do know that for now, I’ll turn off the music and look out the window and watch the horizon, and hope that that is good enough.


16 thoughts on “Carsickness”

  1. I get carsick too, Lindsey. I’m fine as the driver, but as a passenger I can’t ride in the back seat. For short rides, I can sit in the front, but it gets complicated for long drives. My husband says it’s because I read in the car, and that might be part of it. But throw in some hills or curves, combined with heat and complaining kids – and my head is out the window!

  2. Long after terrible bouts of childhood bouts of carsickness, an optometrist told me that the problem was with losing track of the horizon and that my closing one eye the carsickness could be resolved. I haven’t needed to test it, but I’ve never forgotten the tip.

    Sorry it’s so treacherous for you. x

  3. This struck a chord with me! I grew up getting into every car with the trusty brown paper bag. Friends immediately get out of the front passenger seat when picking me up and head for the back seat(they’ve seen plenty). Small planes are demons to me — I always look at the shoes of the passenger next to me in case I lose it…don’t want to ruin a nice pair of dress shoes! I also sit as far forward as possible (that’s the co-pilot seat on trips to Nantucket from Logan), and chomp on crushed ice. I’m drenched after a 30-minute flight… The flight from Denver to Aspen is notoriously ugly. Why are we like this? I’ve been told it’s all inner ear. I few years ago I had serious vertigo problems, which were miraculously cured via the Epley procedure in my doctor’s office. I’ve yelled “Stop the bus” during an architectural tour of Portugal, not caring that we were precariously perched on a mountain side. Boats are no better for me, and I come from a family of sailors. And so I’ve learned to never eat before a trip… Once I’ve vomited, though, I feel absolutely great! Nausea waits for no one! My heartfelt sympathies to you on this one!

  4. Ooh! I’m sorry you get carsick. (And such an interesting analysis of why this might happen to you.) I am totally aware of how lucky I am NOT to get carsick. I’ve read many a book (and tweet) sitting in the passenger seat on the way to see my parents in Chicago. (Between handing snacks to the kids and talking to Bryan)

  5. Love this post. I haven’t commented in a while, but I’m still out here loving your work. And this one really struck me, not because I have carsickness but because I need to slow down and pay more attention. Thanks for continuing to write the posts that make me feeling like I’m taking a giant breath in and exhaling.

  6. You are an irritating passenger with lots of opinions:

    “That is a lot of wiper”
    “The light is not getting any greener”
    on and on….

  7. I just read your husbands comment and I’m still laughing 🙂

    I’m the same way…. although not quite as severe, but still if I’m not driving I’m probably getting carsick. I’m afraid Paige is like that as well… poor thing. I never thought of it as a push to be still. But definitely find it irritating whenever I consider I need to just let go and give up control and let the driver drive…

  8. Oh my dear, I can completely relate. My motionsickness has ruled my life since I was an infant, but I never thought to stop and think about the lesson behind it. I’ve been trying making baby steps to overcome it just in case it’s got a mental component, but I’m overly cautious. I even spent the first night of my honeymoon sick sick sick on what my husband terms the smoothest waters ever. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  9. I get nauseous at the drop of hat as it is, so I wasn’t in the least surprised to fall victim to carsickness during both my pregnancies. It was awful. I still can’t sit in the back seat of a car and sometimes it creeps up on me in the passenger seat as well, but never when I’m driving. Why IS that? And, yeah, I can’t read or look at my phone for too long either.

  10. Yuck. If I couldn’t read in the car I would jump out the window.

    This is such an interesting analysis of carsickness. This is why I love your writing so much – you investigate the little things.

  11. Oh… so interesting! I am exactly the same way. I have to drive in order to feel anywhere close to ok. I have thought about the control factor often but I agree- I don’t think that is all there is to it. A few months ago, a friend told me that eating sour patch kids would help. I love sour patch kids so I was more than happy to try it but unfortunately, while tasty not a cure…

  12. I have to do the same thing, always have (look out the window and not read or look down) and I don’t know why… have never liked roller coasters, either. AND I really detest road trips, which I’m sure I should probably try to like more… but I don’t. Maybe it’s remembering all those long road trips we took down to Alabama to go to the beach when I was a kid? I loved the vacations, hated the drive. Maybe it’s the carsickness. Or maybe I just like to get where I’m going. 🙂 Oh, I get really really seasick, too. Went on a weeklong sailing trip and ended up having to take a criminal amount of dramamine. Sigh! 😉

  13. “I climb to outrageous joy and plummet to tearful heartache every single day. Hell, I do that every hour. Just inside my own head and heart.”
    I just read this aloud to my husband. His response? That’s a GREAT line.
    My response? Thank God for Lindsey Mead. I’m not crazy.

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